Eric Kripke: A Filmmaking (Super)Natural
Those that know Eric Kripke from when he was a boy growing up in the Toledo, Ohio, suburb of Sylvania often tell him they didn’t know that he was “secretly disturbed.” And even the filmmaker admits that his happy, idyllic life seems out of place for the guy that created the horror sensation, Supernatural.
“I guess the only thing weird may have been how normal everything was,” Kripke says.
Kripke’s Supernatural, soon to finish its fourth season, tells the tale of two monster-hunting brothers – Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles respectively. Think of it as a sort of Route 66 with chainsaws, muscle cars and a boatload of demons.
Bit of a 180 for a guy who started his career as a comedy writer.
Kripke says that since he was 8 or 9 years old, he was very focused on becoming a filmmaker.
“I never really wanted to do anything else. You could say I was ‘dangerously obsessed.’ And by 12, I knew I wanted to go to the University of Southern California (USC) – mainly because it was the only film school whose name made it all the way back to Sylvania,” says Kripke.
That obsession got him into film school – at USC – and Kripke trekked west to Los Angeles when he was 18. Throughout college and just after, Kripke fashioned himself a comedy writer, making short films for festivals. One of those films led to a development deal with Dreamworks, the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberger and David Geffen.
“Turns out I wasn’t that great of a comedy writer,” Kripke laughs, calling the work he did for six or seven years sub-par, bland studio comedies that didn’t get made and usually wound up in development hell.
“I was thankful I was getting a paycheck, but frustrated that nothing was getting made,” he says.
He turned his attention to a TV series for the WB: Tarzan. That series, a kind of reimagining of the classic tale, lasted eight episodes.
“It was a disaster, a very painful experience, and not very good. But as they say, you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.”
The Horror! The Horror!
As a kind of creative tonic, Kripke sat down and banged out something new. But this time there was nothing funny about it. This was horror. Or more precisely, a horror film.
“It was big fun, mostly because I never thought I would write a horror film,” says Kripke. “And even this was written mainly just for me. I even named every character who dies in the thing after a studio executive.”
His friends read it and loved it. Then it got in the hands of Michigan native Sam Raimi, best known for both his Evil Dead films and his Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi liked it and passed it to his friend and former University of Michigan roommate, producer Rob Tapert. Tapert liked it and, all of sudden says Kripke, it was in production. The film, 2005’s Boogeyman, was a hit.
About this same time, folks at Warner Brothers – impressed with both Kripke’s talent and that he “went down with the ship” with respect to Tarzan – asked him what other projects he might like to do.
“I told them I had an idea for a horror series,” Kripke says. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been on a few years earlier, but it played as only partially horror. For as funny and smart and brilliant as it was, it wasn't a particularly terrifying show. We wanted to do something different, more in line with The Grudge or The Gift or Boogeyman. We wanted to take our scares seriously."
Warner Brothers liked the concept, saw the potential, and didn’t think there was any series on the air that carried Kripke’s kind of tone. An exploration of American urban legends – without sparing the things that go bump in the night.
And with that Supernatural was born.
Midwestern Monster Hunters
Blazing a trail in their ’67 Chevy Impala – a character in of itself – brothers Sam and Dean Winchester battle the demons that killed their monster hunter father and beloved mother. The series has progressed four seasons, and with two episodes left – tonight’s lead-in to next week’s season finale (May 7 and May 14 respectively) – things are getting a bit hairy.
“There’s been a lot of confrontation between the brothers this season. And that will come to blows in the finale,” says Kripke. “Family is everything for these guys, but here they’re burning bridges while they’re trying to avert the Apocalypse. Will they be able to find common ground and avert the end of the world?”
Kripke won’t say. Nor will he talk about season five – possibly Supernatural’s final season, though we’ll see. He’s apologetic about that – and about not sharing any spoilers – but like any great storyteller, he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise.
Those that haven’t watched the show can catch episodes online via the show’s official site or buy ‘em on DVD.
You’ll like it if you dig Raimi’s work, a stated influence on the show. In fact, Kripke says the show originally tried to cast Bruce Campbell, Ash in the Evil Dead films, as Sam and Dean’s father, but the timing just didn’t work out.
Other influences include An American Werewolf in London, a movie that Kripke says spotlights its humor, but takes its scares seriously. “Neil Gaiman and his works, including 'Sandman' and 'American Gods', are big influences, as are stories from roadside America,” says Kripke. “You know, the secrets lurking in the corners of all of our quiet, small towns.”
Those from the Midwest will have fun spotting Kripke’s many nods to his hometown. Multiple streets are named after real streets in Toledo and he likes to name characters after friends.
As for some day shooting a film or TV series in the Midwest, Kripke says its possible – but much needs to happen to make that a viable option.
“Tax incentives are key,” Kripke says. “You have to remember that the creative guys don’t carry how much it costs to shoot in Cleveland. If the movie is set in Cleveland, they want to shoot in Cleveland. But the suits care – and they’re the one’s that sign the checks.”
If they see that they can shoot a flick for 80 cents on the dollar, that location is on the table. Twenty years ago, North Carolina wasn’t even a thought for Hollywood studio heads. But because of tax rebates and other incentives, it’s always one of the first places considered for location shooting.
“You also need the talent – the support staff – to assure a smooth shoot for a film on location,” says Kripke. “Big cities have that, but a lot of smaller cities don’t – or need to cultivate that community. But it’s also a community that develops as more films shoot on location.”
Could it happen? Maybe.
“Never say never,” says Kripke.